Taxing plastic shopping bags not the answer
Plastic shopping bag asics s must not become the whipping boy for the garbage woes of the City of Toronto. In his drive to divert 70 per cent of Toronto’s solid waste from landfill by 2010, the new chair of Toronto’s public works and infrastructure committee has declared war on plastic grocery bags. He has stated his int asics ention to tax them out of existence.
War it may be, but it’s a phony war and the loser will be consumers, retailers, the City of Toronto and e asics ven the environment.
Why? First, plastic shopping bags are not a problem. They are a minuscule part of Toronto’s waste stream. In fact, if every single bag used in Canada ended up in landfill, it would represent less than 1 per cent of residential solid waste. So it’s hard to see how attacking bags will help when you have a 70 per cent diversion goal. What about the other 69 per cent of the waste stream?
It doesn’t make sense. There are plenty of other legitimate targets deserving of Toronto’s attention that will make a difference.
Second, taxes on plastic bags just don’t work. It is bad public policy.
Experience worldwide shows that a tax on plastic bags can have a number of negative unintended consequences that hurt consumers, retailers, and even the environment.
Not only do the taxes not promote wise use, but such taxes have led to a significant increase in the amount of plastic and paper going to landfill.
In Ireland, for example, consumers responded to a by switching to other types of bags not subject to the tax, particularly heavier plastic catcher bags, to carry their groceries.
And while there was a 90 per cent reduction in bags handed out at check out, sales of these heavier plastic bags have gone up 400 per cent and the overall amount of plastic resin used in Ireland has actually increased 10 per cent.
Britain, Italy and the EU have all rejected a bag tax after legislators spent two years rev asics iewing expert testimony on the issue.
And last fall, a bag tax proposal was defeated in a vote at the annual meeting of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and withdrawn before a vote at the Union of British Columbia Municipalities after it became apparent that the motion was going to lose.
People have forgotten why the bags were introduced in the first place. Lightweight, inexpensive, waterproof and hygienic with very high reuse, the lowly plastic shopping bag may be the best alternative for transporting groceries.
Technology advances also mean that the bags are highly recyclable and can be remade into new bags or plastic lumber products like siding, decking and outdoor furniture in what is now a $2 billion market.
Ontarians are overwhelmingly opposed to a tax on plastic bags.
Close to 75 per cent of the population say they would not support such a move, according to a recent Decima poll. The public opinion survey also found that nine in 10 people want to recycle their plastic bags.
What the public is saying is don’t want to be taxed; we want to use sensible solutions. And we have those; solutions based on sound environmental principles and a full life cycle analysis of the bags. It’s all about wise use and the three Rs.’
Retailers already offer a wide range of choices to consumers reusable bags, buy a bag programs, bins, stickering of large items, and in store, take back to retail programs. The challenge is to expand take back programs for bags in Ontario.
As an industry committed to product stewardship, we have been working with municipalities to build public awareness and promote recycling and wise use.
We must admit that we are quite puzzled about the city’s recent stance on bags because it is getting ready to recycle plastic bags through the blue box program next year.